Before my posture stiffens and my heart fills with martial pride, as it does every Republic Day when I watch the parade on Delhi’s Rajpath, I thought I would take a quick stock of what it means for me to be an Indian.
My grandfather, the first Indian civil surgeon of pre-independence Dhaka, fled with his family to what is now Assam in early 1946, a year before a partitioned India gained formal independence.
His crime? He was a Hindu. The British were clearly going to leave India, and the leaders of the freedom struggle were fighting over what form the new country would take. Instigated by Jinnah and company, Muslim-dominated Dhaka was restive.
In July 1946, massive communal riots broke out in Calcutta, sparked by the Muslim League which was demanding a separate state based on religious grounds, and the Congress, which was trying to resist this demand. The unrest spread, and in October came the massacre at Noakhali, now in Bangladesh .
"The horror of the Noakhali outrage is unique in modern history in that it was not a simple case of turbulent members of the majority community (Muslims) killing off helpless members of the minority Hindu community, but was one whose chief aim was mass conversion, accompanied by loot, arson and wholesale devastation... No section of the Hindu community has been spared, the wealthier classes being dealt with more drastically. Abduction and outrage of Hindu women and forcible marriages were also resorted. The slogans used and the methods employed indicate that it was all part of a plan for the simultaneous establishment of Pakistan."
Wikipedia, quoting S. L. Ghosh of the A. B. Patrika. (which is confusing, given that two major Bengali newspapers at the time were Ananda Bazar Patrika and Amrita Bazar Patrika)
These riots were meant to, and did, convince the departing British that Hindus and Muslims could not live together in the country, and that the Muslims needed their own homeland based on religion.
Independence finally came with the religious bloodbath of Partition, whose scars still mark the subcontinent. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the other new nation, was broken up again with the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
Today, India is in the news as the most powerful player in the subcontinent, and perhaps the second most powerful in terms of economic and military might in Asia.
Today, Pakistan and Bangladesh are in the news for being almost-failed states, yo-yoing between military and civilian rule, and for being the breeding grounds of jihadi terrorists seeking to establish Sharia law across the world.
Both share long borders with India.
Relations with Pakistan have been hostile since independence. Bangladesh, which attained independence with Indian assistance, is now happily reviving linkages with its erstwhile oppressor, Pakistan.
The Pakistan high commission in Dhaka is described as the “largest outpost” of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, or ISI, by Indian diplomatic and strategic analysts. Over the past five years, an increasing number of terrorist strikes in India have been linked to Bangladesh, though Dhaka vehemently denies any such involvement.
Radical Islam and turbulent neighbours thus threaten India from the east and the west. (And, if you factor in the ISI’s increasing activity in Nepal and civil-war torn Sri Lanka, from the north and south as well.)
In essence, we are surrounded by tin-pot dictators and their ilk taking perpetual pot shots at us, sometimes with heavy weaponry, sometimes with policies of “a thousand cuts.”
Yet, despite having the third largest -- after Indonesia and Pakistan-- Muslim population in the world, very few Indian Muslims have been linked with the increasing number of terrorist acts being perpetuated in the name of Islam across the globe. Instead of examining the reasons for this, zealots on each side of the religious divide tend to marginalise it.
So it is no surprise that security agencies are nowadays increasingly warning about indigenous jihadi terrorist cells being activated. Poverty and perceived discrimination make it easier for the radical preachers to recruit suicide bombers and other killers in the name of religion, assert our social scientists. This in turn gives teeth to the government’s plans to grant further sops to the Muslim community, ignoring the fact that this can only widen and deepen the communal divide, not bridge it.
In my book, equality cannot be achieved on the basis of sops based on religious or ethnic grounds, simply because it fuels further expectations and dependency among those receiving it, and resentment among those being denied it. But obviously our government knows better.
As a nation, we are still high on the Corruption Index, and despite incredible progress in various spheres, a huge chunk of our population still goes to bed hungry. Naxals and radicals of all hues are increasingly capitalising on this immense disparity, so glaringly portrayed in the numerous pictures of the slums surrounding swank Mumbai high rises.
Yes, we have problems. Of poverty, of inequality. Of governance. Of pesky, unstable and jealous neighbours who fuel religious and ethnic strife in our land.
But we also have plenty to be proud of.
Unlike our neighbours, not once, and this includes the brief spell of Emergency Rule, did we ever have the military take over, or even try to, take over the nation. And at least on paper, We the People get a chance to elect our own leaders every five years or so.
Over the years, I have seen this nation grow in phenomenal leaps and bounds, particularly after the end of the Licence Raj.
I remember when people had to wait five or more years for a phone line. When those wanting an automobile were forced to choose between the Ambassador and the Fiat.
Today, I see vegetable sellers and even street sweepers with mobile handsets. Today, I see an Indian company bidding for, and buying iconic automobile brands like Jaguar and Land Rover.
Today, I see almost every nation in the world making a beeline for a resurgent and proud India, well on its way to take its place at the top table of world powers.
This despite all the seemingly insurmountable internal and external fault lines that permeate and plague the country. This despite all the cynical naysayers —some of them Indian-- who used to periodically write us off as a “basket case.”
Which is why it is important for us remember that our nation is far, far more than just its people, or its leaders.
Which is why each Republic Day, my chest swells with pride as I salute My India.
The author is the Chief Editor of Sify.com.
The views expressed in the article are his own